When the leader of the relatively young Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation chastises the country’s oldest political party for having squandered the seats allocated to it in Bihar’s Grand Alliance, it essentially asks the Indian National Congress to introspect on the way it is pursuing politics.
When the need for such introspection is underlined by one of its own stalwarts, Tariq Anwar, the writing is on the wall. And when from distant America comes news that former President Barack Obama in his soon to be released memoir has likened the Congress’ main hope for the future to an inept student, the need for soul-searching becomes paramount.
Mr Obama is said to have damned Mr Rahul Gandhi with faint praise saying that he has “a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject”.
This is as accurate a summation of the Congress leader as one is likely to read and explains the dilemma that his mother must face in deciding on whether to give up her seemingly permanent “interim” presidentship of the party.
The Congress has bumbled from crisis to crisis after its momentous loss in the 2014 parliamentary election. It has in the past six years lost power in states where it should not have, been outmanoeuvred in political battles and appears to have resigned itself to bit roles in regions where it was once ruled.
Had it been less ambitious in Bihar, and claimed fewer than the 70 seats it got, and had its partners picked up the slack, the Grand Alliance might have fared better. But even if it had, the Congress would still have been a minor cog in the RJD wheel.
This is the real problem with the party ~ one of feeling entitled without showing achievements ~ and one it must address if it is ever to have viable ambitions. The Prime Minister’s contempt for dynastic political structures has been expressed often and his well-directed barbs are calculated at forcing the Congress to circle the wagons every time he holds forth on the family.
But the more the Congress hunkers down in defence of the Gandhis, the more it suits its rivals for they know their best chance of keeping the party down is to ensure that its leadership does not change. As even Mr Obama has so aptly perceived. Mr Gandhi has not mastered politics despite having spent decades at it.
In August, the Congress gave itself six months to find a new leader and decentralise power after senior party leaders forced Mrs Gandhi’s hand. Nearly half that period has elapsed without any meaningful moves in the direction. Perhaps the party had hoped a better result in Bihar would silence those who question the family. That has not happened. The next general election is less than four years away, time enough for the Congress to regroup. But will it?